Laugh-out-loud Neil Simon comedy at Lyric Arts

A husband and wife team, steeped in the tradition of bringing theater to Anoka County, temporarily trade in their producing personas to deliver laughs to audience members when they appear opposite each other in Lyric Arts Main Street Stage’s “Barefoot in the Park.”

Husband and wife team Tom McCarthy and Patti Hynes-McCarthy act opposite each other in Lyric Arts’ newest comedy production “Barefoot in the Park.” Hynes-McCarthy is the straight-laced Ethel Banks and Tom McCarthy is Victor Valesco, a free-spirited, flirtacious, mountain climber. Photo courtesy of Christy Bruen

Husband and wife team Tom McCarthy and Patti Hynes-McCarthy act opposite each other in Lyric Arts’ newest comedy production “Barefoot in the Park.” Hynes-McCarthy is the straight-laced Ethel Banks and Tom McCarthy is Victor Valesco, a free-spirited, flirtacious, mountain climber. Photo courtesy of Christy Bruen

Patti Hynes-McCarthy and husband Tom McCarthy of Coon Rapids play supporting roles in the hilarious romantic comedy penned by Neil Simon.

Patti is Ethel Banks. She lives a rather humdrum existence alone in New Jersey. She is quiet, dresses in outdated clothes and has a bad back and sensitive stomach.

Tom is Victor Velasco, a 58-year-old eccentric, a flirt trying to pass himself off as 56. He’s a mountain climber, a chef, a gregarious and outgoing sort with a mysterious European accept. His climbing serves him well as he’s four months behind on his rent and sneaks into his attic apartment via the window of the new tenants, a young couple Paul and Corie Bratter, who live downstairs.

The show centers on the Bratters, newlyweds realizing the honeymoon is over. But Victor and Ethel, Corie’s mother, up the comedy factor with their hilarious portrayal of their characters.

Fun acting together

The fun starts for the McCarthys when Corie tries to fix up her straight-laced mother, Ethel, with the free-spirited Victor.

Patti, who played Sister Aloysius in Lyric Art’s “Doubt: A Parable,” is enjoying her newest character portrayal.

“It’s a very funny role,” she said. “I thought if I got a chance to play that part, I’d play it.”

For her the best part of acting in a mother-in-law role is “it’s playing a part that I can kind of relate to,” she said, alluding to her son who married last summer.

Among acting gigs, the couple have played opposite each other three times in their productions of “I Do, I Do” at The Seasons Dinner Theatre, the last time being in 2003. This year marks their 25th season of producing Seasons shows, which a few years ago moved its venue from Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids to Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake.

“Tom and I used to play the bride and groom and now I’m playing the mother of the bride and he’s the crazy guy upstairs,” Patti says with a laugh.

Tom is often cast in the handsome, leading roles parts. This time it’s different. He’s in fewer scenes. He’s a quirky guy, who dressed in his maroon, velvet smoking jacket with an underlying brocade vest, takes the stage.

So how does Tom get into character? He uses a device he teaches when he directs shows. You give the character something to hang on. “The thing that helped me the most was the generic eastern European accent,” he said. To further develop his character, Tom went so far as to grow a goatee for the part.

“He’s probably a lot more like me than I want to admit,” Tom said, poking fun at the role.

For Tom, who teaches speech at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, the best part of being in the show (Patti talked him into auditioning for the part), “is I’m reminded at how really good she is,” he said about his wife.

The couple also enjoy taking their 7-year-old daughter, Joie, to rehearsals. She has the opportunity to see them interact on stage.

They met in college

Patti and Tom met at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He was engaged to someone else, she was dating another, but they always seemed to get paired up.

“People called us the Minnesota Twins,” Patti said.

They were in plays together in college. Their friendship soon developed into a romantic relationship. They have been married for 30 years now.

They both hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater from NSU. Tom also holds the equivalent of a master’s degree in speech from the University of Minnesota. He earned his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas.

In addition to Joie, they have two other children, Christopher, 24, and Jonathon, 20.

When people ask the McCarthys how they find time to do theater, Tom tells them: “If we weren’t doing this, we’d be sitting at home and watching TV.”

Instead, acting and producing shows gives them the opportunity to meet new, interesting and fun people, he said.

This is Tom’s first time acting in a Lyric Arts production.

“It really is magical to go there,” he said.

Lyric Arts presents Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.” Directed by Matt McNabb. May 31 through June 15. Tickets are $12-$22. The theater is located at 420 E. Main St. For more information, visit www.lyricarts.org or call the box office at 763-422-1838.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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